Who's Really Leading?

The entire time I was in manufacturing, nearly twenty years, the facility I worked in held a meeting each Tuesday afternoon that was often referred to as The Leadership Team Meeting. The plant manager led this meeting and each of the department managers participated, reviewing the metrics they were each responsible for tracking, discussing issues they were facing, and whether or not they were within budget to that point in the quarter. If one of those managers happened to be out of the plant, they would tap someone on their team to attend in their place…

Sound familiar? I expect it does since nearly every company I’ve interacted with in the years since holds similar meetings. But are those really leadership team meetings?

When Cindy and I had a conversation with Carly Fiorina a while back, she shared this with us regarding the difference between managing and leading, “Managers produce results within existing constraints and conditions. Leadership CHANGE or CHALLENGE existing constraints and conditions.” With that perspective in mind, coupled with what was reviewed in the Tuesday afternoon meeting each week, would you consider it a Leadership Team Meeting or a Management Team Meeting?

Having been one of those folks who was tapped to attend on occasion, all I ever saw was a group of folks who were working to produce results within existing constraints and conditions… Process improvement was typically something the engineers were tasked with, developing new customers fell on the shoulders of the outside sales team, and I just don’t recall any real push to change or challenge anything that was ever handed down from the corporate office. To me, this was absolutely a management team meeting…

Don’t miss my point here: I’m not suggesting that it was a bad thing or even an unnecessary thing; without managing each of the details that were covered in that weekly meeting - and managing them VERY effectively - hundreds of people’s livelihood would have been at stake. Managing productivity and profitability are extremely critical for any privately held business, but leading requires a different set of skills!

One of the first catchphrases I remember hearing John Maxwell say early in my career was that “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.” While managing our processes and procedures are absolutely necessary, that’s often done from a perspective of positional authority where team members are held accountable for performing specific roles. When expectations aren’t met, consequences usually follow. Again, producing results within existing constraints and conditions… But not necessarily challenging or changing, or achieving those results through a level of influence beyond some level of fear of repercussions…

With all that in mind, how often have you seen someone in an individual contributor role, with no supervisory responsibility but is very skilled technically, who’s words carry significant weight with every single one of their peers - whether their words are positive or negative? I sure have! And when those words happen to push back against existing constraints or conditions, it can seem like the whole team has turned against the supervisor or manager! Whether we like it or not, folks like this are often leading the team that someone else is managing…

As we move forward here, we’re going to work through some things we can each do in our respective roles to earn genuine influence so we can lead our organizations just as effectively as we’ve had to manage them leading up to this point. Although this often requires a completely different set of skills, both can be applied simultaneously AND they can complement one another!

What’s Driving Your Team?

Think about that example I just shared with hopes of helping make the case for the clear difference between managing and leading an organization. One is just as important as the other and neither can be overlooked, but we cannot mistakenly consider those two very different actions to be one in the same! That said, I’m sure you’ve seen that exact thing happen just as frequently as I have…

Let me be clear here; I don’t believe the terms - leadership and management - are interchanged with the intention of creating confusion (most of the time). In the majority of the scenarios I’m picturing, supervisors and managers definitely hold responsibility for leading their teams. But all too often, they’ve never been provided with the tools necessary for combining any kind of effective leadership with the technical steps of managing the outcomes of the processes they’re overseeing. We’ll circle back to that shortly…

Before that though, I want to challenge you to really think into what’s driving your team to produce on a daily basis… Are the folks who report to you, directly or indirectly, working to meet productivity expectations on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis out of fear of what will happen if they fall short? Or are they inspired to give each task absolutely everything they’ve got to exceed the customers’ expectations because they’re inspired by the authentic influence you’ve earned by serving them?

I won’t pretend to speak for anyone but myself here, but I’ve seen the former be the norm in far more organizations - or even departments within organizations - than the latter! In just about every role I can think of, there are measurable objectives that each team member is expected to meet. Whether those are based on performing a set amount of work, achieving a specific amount of sales revenue, or interacting with a certain number of people, there’s almost always a clearly defined goal that needs to be hit. And if we fall short of that goal, we’re typically familiar with the progression discipline that follows. 

As a manager, I’m responsible for holding my team members accountable for meeting those expectations. When they fall short, I should be addressing it immediately and consistently across the board. 

But if I’m willing to accept the responsibility of leading that team I manage, I can engage my team members at any step in the process to make sure they have everything they need to exceed expectations and support them through any challenges they’re experiencing along the way. At first glance, this can seem like it would require a lot more effort from the person supervising or managing. But when it becomes part of our culture and we earn the kind influence that inspires our teams to give it everything they have, we’ll quickly start seeing results that would never have been matched by the threat of discipline!

Here’s the challenge I’ve seen so many great individuals and solid organizations run into: there’s rarely a blueprint for taking this different approach! In just about every industry I’ve been around, there are peer groups a company can become part of for guidance on the X’s and O’s of their trade. Some even dig into specific processes within those trades… But you rarely find anything that will put a group of executives - or managers or supervisors - in a room with a strategic focus on building a culture based on earning influence so every team member buys in at a higher level.

I think that’s a huge problem that should get far more attention than it usually does!

Intense Pressure to Deliver Results!

I remember a Friday evening phone call a few years back with a friend who was serving as CEO for a locally owned company that was experiencing almost unbelievable growth. He had been very tuned into the top-line and bottom-line revenue the entire time I knew him. I had also seen firsthand how effective he was at developing relationships with the customers and clients his organization served. In spite of all the growth and how great he was at connecting with folks outside the organization, about half of the managers who reported directly to him were ready to throw him overboard. As our discussion moved to some of the challenges he was dealing with inside the organization, he made a statement that I don’t think I’ll ever forget: “My job is to grow the business. I don’t have time for all that touchy-feely stuff!”

I just referenced how frequently business owners and executives face intense pressure to deliver results. Whether that pressure comes from making sure payroll is covered from week to week in a small or medium size business or from making sure the quarterly earnings statement meets shareholder expectations, I don’t think I’ve met an executive who had the luxury of not keeping a close eye on production numbers or overall productivity within their organization. And I suppose it’s those close ties to processes and procedures that have resulted in many of the business owners and high level managers I’ve known coming from either a strong technical or a strong financial background…

Don’t get me wrong here, each of those things I just listed are absolutely critical to an organization’s success. Contrary to what seems to have become a popular belief, nothing lasts very long when more money is being spent than made; not a personal bank account, not a business, or even a country! Therefore, someone had better be keeping a keen eye on each of those metrics. 

But businesses don’t operate with only machines and widgets! Every company I’ve ever been around has had a huge need for one other specific resource - and many will compete heavily for those same resources regardless of the industry they’re in…

I believe it was Henry Ford who said, “Why is it that when I only need to hire the man’s hands to do a job, I always end up dealing with the whole person?” Much like many of the business owners and high level managers I’ve known, Ford had an incredible technical background. If you’ve read much about him though, it’s not hard to see why he would make a statement like that. He didn’t seem to put much stock into that touchy-feely stuff either…

I can’t point to one single cause for the pressure that causes an owner or executive to focus almost entirely on X’s and O’s. I believe it could be a combination of several things; their often strong technical backgrounds, the constant push to achieve financial results, and even a heavy cultural focus on both of those things while almost completely ignoring the actual culture of the organization. But if we have conferences, organizations, and even councils that focus on every other aspect of a given trade or industry, wouldn’t it make sense to have something that’s equally focused on providing the resources those folks need to truly LEAD their teams in a way that creates a culture where all of those other metrics are better because the people involved in reaching them are bought in and engaged? I sure think so...

What Do They ALL Have in Common?

Accountants studied accounting, electricians studied electricity, and brain surgeons studied brains. Well, maybe it’s a bit more complex than that but you get my point… In almost every case, we need to learn a specific set of skills to truly master the field we’re working in. As we master our craft, the organization we’re a part of often rewards our expertise with opportunities for advancement. And if they don’t, someone else usually does or we choose to give a go on our own and start our own business in that field.

As we climb that ladder, be it against a big corporate building or against a building we laid the foundation for ourselves, sooner than later we end up dealing with things that require skills that have absolutely nothing to do with what we had mastered leading up to that point. And regardless of the industry we’re in, a few of those things just happen to be the people on our teams! Whether we like it or not, it takes an entirely different set of skills to get results through our team members than it did to get results analyzing numbers, using a set of hand tools, or developing a way to launch a rocket!

As I mentioned, most of us are familiar with various types of industry groups that have been designed to provide support for nearly any given technical aspect our organizations could ever face. The one thing I had not seen was a group focused entirely on addressing that one thing that every single business owner and executive would have in common: the need to continuously improve the leadership culture within their organizations…

Does that even make sense? I’ve never seen a company operate without people. Even a one-man-show better be dealing with other people at some point or that one man will soon be living in a van down by the river! I’m not downplaying the importance of being great at the technical aspects of whatever our company specializes in, I’m just calling attention to the FACT that every organization on the planet deals with people. And if we’re the ones who call the shots at any level of one of those organizations, learning to develop effective leadership skills so we earn influence with the teams we’re responsible for becomes a bigger and bigger part of achieving results as we climb that ladder.

As we start that climb, finding resources that help with this may be as simple as searching YouTube; there’s certainly tons of great material out there. But as we move forward, the need for something that’s customized to our own scenario increases. And for the folks who carry the weight of their entire organization on their shoulders -  the ones who have to be sure everybody else gets paid - there’s a significant need for extremely specialized resources, mentorship & coaching, and even networking with others who deal with similar situations.

The higher we climb, the harder it can be to find what we need to help us be successful at each new level we reach or to progress any farther. Cindy and I have had access to some of the best resources in the world as we grew in our respective careers - and we invested heavily into those resources. But as we started serving more and more business owners and high level executives, we realized there just wasn’t much available that was tailored just for them… so we created something!

 It really started with what we called an Executive Summit session that followed the LIVE2LEAD:Harrisonburg event we hosted in 2018, but it soon morphed in our Executive Leadership Elite Think Tank.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Over the last twenty years, I’ve had access to better mentors than I probably deserved. I’d like to think I’ve always worked as hard as I possibly could to earn that access but some of the folks who have sown into my life and career were nothing short of proof that God’s hand does indeed move in each of our lives when we’re willing to move with It! All that said, the type of mentorship I’ve needed has changed as I’ve held different roles with different types of responsibilities; personally and professionally!

When I worked in safety, there were three or four amazing safety professionals I was able to align myself with so I could have access to the best and most relevant information available. As I moved into a full time human resource role, a few of those guys who were great at safety just didn’t have experience in HR so I had to chase after experts in that field. The same that had been true in my personal life when I started working out as a scrawny 20 year old as well as when I became a husband and dad. Being able to get input, guidance, and feedback from others who had mastered each of those things was a huge help for me!

As I’ve stressed leading up to this point, having access to strong mentorship in the technical aspects of what we do is common today and has been around for nearly as history has been recorded. During a recent session in our Leading At The Next Level program, Cindy quoted King Solomon of ancient Israel as having said, “As iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other.”

But when it comes to leading an entire organization, it’s often significantly more difficult to get access to others who have been or currently are in our shoes. Cindy and I have invested significant amounts of time and money to gain access to the mentors we need for this stage of our lives and business. And by doing that, we’ve been able to build a network of business owners that we can meet with routinely - one on one as well as in a quarterly group session - where we all share the purpose of creating strong leadership cultures for the individuals who are part of our respective organizations.

Cindy and I certainly work to provide this small, exclusive group with resources they can take back to their own businesses but we also put an intense focus on helping them develop relationships with one another to create even more growth and continuity throughout the group. Even with this in place though, iron won’t sharpen itself! We’ve been very intentional about scheduling our time in each session to be sure everyone involved adds value to the entire group and leaves with tangible steps they can take to make their companies even stronger. We’ll work through some of those steps soon...

Do Your Have Access to an Executive Leadership Council?

The objective for our Executive Leadership Elite Think Tank group is to provide organizational leaders with an atmosphere for ongoing leadership development, a safe environment for collaboration and feedback on the leadership issues they’re facing, and to strengthen their business relationships with other top leaders in the area. This group will be limited to a maximum of 15 participants.

Registration is only open between November and January each year but you're always welcome to reach out to us to learn more about how you can get access as spots open!